UTK Former Trainee Spotlight: Megan Rodgers

IMG_2898Megan Rodgers, an alumnus of the Maternal and Child Health Leadership traineeship, is a registered and licensed dietitian at the Knox County Health Department. At the University of Tennessee, Megan obtained a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition, a Master of Science in Public Health Nutrition and completed the dietetic internship. Megan’s work at the health department focuses on planning, implementing and evaluating an afterschool program that teaches children about the importance of healthy eating and physical activity. She also strives to improve the afterschool environment through policy, systems and environmental changes that positively impact all students who attend afterschool care at these sites. Megan’s work directly engages the MCH population, which she grew to love through her time as a trainee. She is an active member of the Knoxville Area Afterschool Network and is on the Board of Directors for the Knoxville Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Leveraging a Community-Academic Partnership to Address Childhood Obesity: A poster presentation at the Tennessee Public Health Association annual meeting in Franklin, TN

At the Tennessee Public Health Association annual meeting in September 2018, I presented data from a recent plate waste study completed at three afterschool sites in the Knoxville area. Results from this study showed very high plate waste at all sites for all dinner meal components. This is of concern for many reasons, but especially because these afterschool centers serve many low-income, food insecure children.

During this study, collaboration between the Knox County Health Department and the University of Tennessee’s Departments of Nutrition and Public Health created an opportunity for graduate level students to gain hands-on experience and to apply academic training to a community setting. The value of the community-academic partnership enabled successful data collection and project execution.

On two separate occasions, a stratified random sample of dinner meals were collected at three afterschool sites. Standard dinner meals were obtained from the community kitchen that provides meals to the afterschool sites. These standard meals were used to calculate an average amount of each meal component and served as a comparison reference for participant meals collected. The amount of food wasted was astonishingly high and indicates a need for an evidence-based intervention to increase acceptability and consumption of the dinner meal at these afterschool sites. The community-academic partners will seek additional funding to plan, implement and evaluate an intervention that seeks to accomplish this goal. Collaborative partnerships are essential to addressing public health issues such as food insecurity and childhood obesity while training the future of the public health workforce.

As a registered dietitian, I am passionate about improving the health and well-being of children. The afterschool time serves as a prime platform for providing children with healthy, nutritious foods. Many of these children may not have access to healthy foods outside of the afterschool program’s doors, so we need to take this opportunity and make the most of it. Of course, we want our children to be well fed and to be successful inside and outside of the classroom. Adequate nutrition can play a key role in that.

ASU TRANSCEND Trainee Spotlight: Kenzie Millner

Version 2Kenzie is a first-year master student in Nutrition at the Arizona State University (ASU) College of Health Solutions. Kenzie received her undergraduate degree in Nutritional Sciences with a Dietetics Emphasis from the University of Arizona-Tucson. She began as an MCH Trainee in August 2018 through the ASU TRANSCEND Program. In this blog post she describes her thesis research and work with a family-focused intervention program in the Phoenix Metropolitan area.

Obesity is a major public health concern for adolescents in the United States. According to the CDC, 18.5% of youth in the United States were considered obese in 2015–2016 (NCHS Data Brief, 2017). Rates of adolescent obesity are even higher in many ethnic minority populations, including Hispanics and Non-Hispanic Blacks (NCHS Data Brief, 2017). Current programming for obesity prevention has been unsuccessful in reaching and preventing obesity in ethnic minority populations. In order to understand the complex factors leading to obesity in ethnic youth populations, we must determine links between physical health behaviors such as substance use, sleep, physical activity, and food choices and obesity, while also understanding the role of mental health in obesity prevention.

The Research and Education Advancing Children’s Health Institute at ASU is a multidisciplinary team that developed and implemented an interdisciplinary project called Family Check Up for Health. Family Check Up for Health is based on a previous evidenced-based model called Family Check Up, which focused on a “strengths-based, family-centered intervention” as a foundation to improve family management skills and address child and adolescent adjustment problems. Family Check Up has shown a variety of health benefits for children and adolescents, including lower rates of obesity among individuals receiving the intervention. The next step is to investigate how a similar intervention impacts health behaviors among an ethnically diverse population. Family Check Up for Health utilizes this foundational framework but also aims to address familial support of positive health behaviors to improve obesity among children and adolescents in the Phoenix Metropolitan area.

My thesis project will focus on data from the Family Check Up for Health intervention. The primary objective of my project is to determine whether there is an association between ethnicity and obesity in adolescents in the program. I will also determine the link between health behaviors in adolescents in the program, and their mental health markers including depression and perceived stress. Uncovering these relationships is the first step in developing evidenced-based interventions which will help bridge the gap of health disparities in ethnic minority populations, especially in obesity treatment and prevention. My work in Family Check Up for Health has been very rewarding thus far, as I really enjoy getting to see first-hand how an intervention can transform peoples’ lives. I hope to see this intervention continue to be adopted by healthcare practitioners around the country so that more lives can be improved.